Left Stag: February 2024

Words: Josh Pickering
Saturday 09 March 2024
reading time: min, words

Will 2024 be the year of Mansfield Town FC? Our trusty supporter Josh Pickering takes a look at how February has gone for the Stags...


In December I declared that it was finally going to be our year. In January, I almost ate my words, as Stags struggled to maintain their incredible form. But February has seen the cold patch thaw and shoots of a genuine title aspiration spring up at Mansfield. As the bard once wrote, “now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer”. If we’re looking for a “son of York” to complete the quote, well, take your pick from a number of Yorkshire-born Stags stars – Lucas Aikins, George Maris, Louis Reed – all of whom have performed brilliantly to turn around our form and (finally!) project us to the summit of the League Two table. At the time of writing, Mansfield are top by three points and, thanks in part to the inconsistency of the chasing pack, a dizzying five points (plus a game in hand) ahead of fourth place.

With a vastly superior goal-difference, this is really an additional point. So how should we feel? Convention would suggest a stance of uncertainty, doubt, pragmatism to the end, but I’ve said for some time now that I believe this is happening. I’m now more certain than ever – not merely because of the much-applauded qualities of this squad and manager, but because of the statistics. While the debate rages on online forums about whether this is Mansfield’s best side since the 70s, the numbers are indisputable. No side in League Two has won more games, lost fewer games or conceded fewer goals, and only one (Notts County, believe it or not) have scored more. We feel, quite frankly, in a different league.

I don’t think this team will ‘bottle it’ in the way past sides might have, mainly because of the mentality of the team. Cloughy has been here before. Many of his players have too, winning promotions from this and higher divisions. The togetherness of the squad also seems to have held strong. It isn’t easy to keep a talented group happy when, inevitably, so many good players have to miss out on minutes each week, but as Bailey Cargill recently remarked, “the lads that aren’t playing, aren’t upset…everyone wants to win, it doesn’t matter who’s playing…I’ve never been in a changing-room like this”. So much has happened this month to talk about. We began February with the visit of local rivals Notts County to Field Mill. Having demolished the Magpies at Meadow Lane earlier in the season, a closer encounter was expected from a County side potentially buoyed by the arrival of new manager Stuart Maynard, and indeed, Notts gave Stags a tough game, edging the first half before Mansfield moved into third gear and showed they are made of sterner stuff, winning 1-0. With that important win under our belt, eyes were on getting back to a run of wins, but no one could anticipate the avalanche of goals that would follow. Over the next two weeks, Stags netted no fewer than nineteen times, over four games. A 4-0 win at FGR and 5-1 battering of Salford were impressive enough, but in-between came a historic, record-equalling 9-2 win over Harrogate that attracted national media attention and prompted the rest of the top sides in League Two to sit up and take notice. Incredible stuff! While the goals have flown in up top, at the back Christy Pym has been superbly protected by the best defence in the division – Aden Flint a particularly dominant tower of strength. 

This form, and the aforementioned statistics that support the theory that we’re on our way to promotion, has seen fans comparing this current side to promotion sides of the past. In my thirty-four years watching Mansfield, I can’t say that I’ve personally seen one so complete. The only obvious comparison for me is with the team of 2001/2, which under the guidance of Billy Dearden and Stuart Watkiss, gained promotion from this division, in third place. I was living in London at the time, unable to attend most games, but seeing them when I could and following the highlights online (a new thing at that time!). I remember the dazzling skill and finishing of our forward stars, Wayne Corden, Chris Greenacre, Liam Lawrence and Craig Disley. What was special about that team of attacking flair, was the relationship they had with the fans. They worked their socks off, entertained and ultimately got the results, but the fact that so many of them were local lads, raised from the youth ranks, made us all so proud to support them. This team doesn’t quite inspire the same love, but in my heart of hearts I have to admit that the sheer relentless consistency, depth of quality and togetherness of this current band of brothers, would be too much for that 01/02 side. The team now have a huge opportunity to put one foot into League One, with games against Milton Keynes and Wrexham to come.

They must also navigate other tricky fixtures and beware the ides of March when they travel to in-form Bradford City. But it can’t be denied, we’re in a brilliant place right now. If Stags can make the next few weeks count and add a few to the W column, we’ll be tantalisingly close, and then, dare I whisper it, we might even start to compare this side to former title-winning teams, the real legends of this club’s history. While, for now, that’s far from a foregone conclusion, and before the final act approaches, I’ll simply urge our protagonists, “be not afraid of greatness”. Come On You Stags!

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